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Classical Latin pr{o}miscuus (see PROMISCUOUS adj.) + -ITY suffix. In later use probably reinforced by French promiscuité confused and indiscriminate mix (1731 with reference to people, 1832 with reference to things), promiscuous sexual behavior (1839 or earlier) < classical Latin pr{o}miscuus + French -ité -ITY suffix. Compare Spanish promiscuidad (a1795 or earlier), Portuguese promiscuidade (1813), Italian promiscuità (1611).


  • 1. The quality or condition of being promiscuous; indiscriminate order, confusion.
  • 2. Promiscuous sexual behaviour; the frequent, casual changing of sexual partners.
  • 3. The ability of a protein, organism, etc., to interact with a variety of targets or in a non-specific manner; spec. the propensity of a plasmid, pathogenic organism, etc., to infect many different hosts.
  • 4. In full intracellular promiscuity. The transfer of DNA segments between genomes within a eukaryotic cell, e.g. between mitochondria and chloroplasts or between an organelle and the nucleus.


In human sexual behavior, promiscuity denotes sex with relatively many partners. In polygamy it is distinguished from promiscuity.

Promiscuity is common in many animal species. Some species have promiscuous mating systems, ranging from polyandry and polygyny to mating systems with no stable relationships where mating between two individuals is a one-time event. Many species form stable pair bonds but still mate with other individuals outside the pair. In biology, incidents of promiscuity in species that form pair bonds are usually called extra-pair copulations.

Human promiscuity

What sexual behavior is considered socially acceptable, and what behavior is "promiscuous", varies much among different cultures, and within a culture different standards are often applied to people of different gender and civil status. In many cultures, while male promiscuity previously had glamorous connotations that acted as an affirmation of masculinity, female promiscuity was seen as a sign of emotional instability and loose morals in women.

These standards are not universal. Indeed, in some Germanic tribes in the first century BC (according to Julius Caesar in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico), it was scandalous for a man to have sexual relations before his twentieth birthday.

Accurately assessing people's sexual behavior is difficult, since there are strong social and personal motivations, depending on social sanctions and taboos, for either minimizing or exaggerating reported sexual activity. Extensive research has produced mathematical models of sexual behavior comparing the results generated with the observed prevalence of sexually transmitted illnesses (STIs) to statistically estimate the probable sexual behavior of the studied population.[1]